By Mike Fleming Jr.

EXCLUSIVE: Move over, Katniss. Lionsgate’s Summit Entertainment has found its next franchise hero: Julias Caesar. The company, whose franchise fare has included Twilight Saga, The Hunger Games and Divergent, has signed on with White Horse Pictures to co-produce Emperor, the first in what could be a trilogy of films about the rise of Julius Caesar and his best friend and eventual mortal enemy Marcus Brutus. Emperor will be based on the first two books written by Iggulden — The Gates Of Rome and The Field Of Swords — that establish the relationship between Caesar (the great military leader) and Marcus (the great fighter) from boyhood. The books cover their rise to the top of the Roman Empire, and the political and romantic entanglements that culminate in that fatal encounter on the floor of the Roman Senate. The final novel covers the revenge taken on Caesar’s murderers by Octavius and Mark Antony.

In the first film, Julius and Marcus bond at boyhood and grow into warriors who become politically ambitious and powerful enough to be regarded as threats by the establishment. Emperor becomes the first film for Nigel Sinclair and Guy East since they formed White Horse Pictures. They began work on the film several years ago when they ran Exclusive Media Group, and Sinclair will produce with Hollywood Gang Productions’ Gianni Nunnari and Atmosphere Entertainment’s Mark Canton, and Matt Jackson. East and William Broyles Jr will be exec producers with Tony To and Alex Brunner.

A script is in by Broyles (Cast Away and Apollo 13), Stephen Harrigan (Hallmark’s Cleopatra), Burr Steers (Pride, Prejudice And Zombies) and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers (The Grey). The fact-based tale has the kind of sexuality, political intrigue, battles and thirst for power evident in a series like HBO’s Game Of Thrones. It is high priority for Lionsgate/Summit, and they will search for a director straight away.

“We’re looking forward to working with an incredible creative team on Emperor, a great property based on a unique and compelling series of books,” said Lionsgate Motion Picture Group co-chairs Rob Friedman and Patrick Wachsberger after confirming the deal. “A fresh and inventive coming-of-age story about the young Julius Caesar and Brutus set amidst the drama, intrigue and passions of ancient Rome, we believe that Emperor will be a big, crowd-pleasing motion picture event for global audiences. It marks an exciting addition to a slate already loaded with franchises, potential franchises and other star-driven tentpole films.”

Said Sinclair: “We’re thrilled to be working with Lionsgate on an epic motion picture event with the potential to create a new multi-picture franchise, and we’re delighted to have Mark, Gianni and Matt bringing to the film their experience in creating sweeping historical sagas of vision and scope.”

Said Canton and Nunnari, who worked together on 300: “Combining the sweep of 300 with the intrigue of Game of Thrones, this is the part of the story of the mighty Julius Caesar that nobody knows – his emergence alongside Brutus as young powerhouses in Rome, a fresh and contemporary retelling of their rivalries, passions and jealousies, captured in a movie with breath-taking action, spectacular visual effects and epic scope.”